Red Clover

Forage Use: Grazing Dairy, Beef, Sheep, Haylage, and Dry Hay

Red clover is a legume that is widely grown throughout the United States as a hay or forage crop. Red clover does better than alfalfa in areas with low soil pH or fertility, and poor soil drainage. Improved red clovers are a fast-starting, highly productive and more persistent than older common types. Red clovers are short-lived perennials that will persist 3 to 4 years. Red clovers can be used in haying or grazing systems. In side-by-side trials red clovers have had higher RFQ’s (more digestibility) than alfalfa in fermented or dried forages and approximately twice the level of bypass protein. Red Clovers are more drought tolerant and productive than White Clover and usually not quite as high quality.

Management

Red clover production during the second year is generally higher than during either the first or third years. The weather influences red clover growth much more than deeper-rooted alfalfa. If summer rainfall is good, clover may be cut about every 35 to 40 days. Growth should be removed after “freeze-down”. Leaving the growth on a field during fall and winter can kill the stand. Red clover stands that are one year old or older should be cut three or four times in a season. Harvesting in drought conditions will also thin stands. When grazing red clovers, turn livestock in when plants are 6-8″ tall and remove them when 3-4″ of the plants remain. Given plants do not self pollinate, insects play a critical role – bumble bees are particularly effective.

Establishment

Red clover can be sown by itself or in mixtures with small grains, alfalfa, and/or cool season grasses. Planting depth should be 0.25 to 0.50 inches. Red clover can also be established by frost seeding (broadcasting on frozen or snow-covered ground), allowing the freezing and thawing work the seed into the soil. Red clover requires soil pH to be 6.0 or higher. Red clover is responsive to phosphorus and potassium, apply to soil testing recommendations. For best results, do not expose to sunlight and plat within 12 hours of inoculating.

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